No surprise to people who know me, ha! But here I’m talking about spoiled in the creative sense. Namely, spoiled by where I live and the support I receive here. By and large, Minnesota is a spectacular state for the arts, a place where creatives are supported and encouraged. This comes not only in the form of community/camaraderie, but we are so lucky to get financial support through the state’s Legacy Amendment.
Large metropolitan areas are known for supporting artists, but even rural Minnesota has a great reputation as a place where artists want to live and work. For years, I served on the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council and saw first-hand the wonderful art and programming available in the nine-county south-central Minnesota region.
I’m embarking on a statewide tour in support of my book, and I received money from the Minnesota State Arts Board to do so. When my book first came out, I did a lot of events in the Mankato area, so now I get the opportunity to visit other parts of the state by arranging events at libraries and bookstores.
While some librarians and bookstore staff have been more than accommodating to my requests to visit, I’ve been a little surprised at some reactions.
Perhaps I’m naive. I guess I think that libraries are always looking for programming. Since I’m funded by a grant, my appearances would cost libraries nothing. But I have a whole list of libraries that I both emailed and then called that did not respond to my request whatsoever, not even to say “Sorry, we’re not interested.” Radio silence.
One communication I did get from a library took me aback a little. Basically my request would have to go through a committee because they don’t want “book promotions.”
The most surprising interaction I had was with a small-town bookseller. I called to inquire whether the bookstore ever holds author events. The woman said yes, they used to, but they don’t anymore because it is too “stressful.”
“No one comes and then the authors are angry, so I decided to not do anymore,” I was told.
I wanted to apologize on behalf of all authors because truly, some events are busts through no one’s fault. Every author needs to understand that and if they don’t, that’s a problem.
But I could not get a word in edgewise. I was made to feel that I was an opportunistic shark because I wanted to do a book signing.
If people aren’t showing up to your bookstore, then use a little imagination to get them there. You can say maybe it’s a town where people aren’t much into art, but have you ever given them a reason to get into art? Use a little creativity to draw in people. Try to get some publicity out there. Some bookstores and communities do this really well. Lanesboro is a case in point. Small town, about an hour away from the largest metropolitan area. But the town has reinvented itself by coming together as a community and deciding that it wanted to be a community known for arts, creativity, and charm. It’s not easy, and it takes time. But it pays off. People flock to this place that was once a non-destination.
The bookstore I was in contact with is in a depressed area economically. But just like there are people who like to wallow in self-pity, towns can be like that, too. Lanesboro could have easily stayed economically non-viable. But its people and business leaders made the decision to do something different. The nameless town, in comparison, might as well put out a sign that says, “Artists not welcome.” In a way it did, because the bookseller told me to contact a bookstore in a town about an hour away (where I had already arranged to visit). Who on earth drives business away to another town?
The fact that I’ve been surprised at these reactions or silence shows that I am spoiled. I cannot imagine a community in my area that would not welcome an artist/writer with open arms. I thought everyone in Minnesota was like that; I guess I was wrong.